Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Brain Sharpening Series: Part 3 - The "Side Effects" of Memory Games

My favorite card is Myanmar.  He looks the coolest. 
WHAT: I Never Forget a Face Matching Game by eeBoo
DOES:  allows you to exercise memory skills by matching faces of children from different parts of the world, use with younger kids with less cards, use more cards as they get older
INVEST: $12-15
TOOLS: Remember to Learn, People are People, Social Scene Helper (if you have an awesome memory and need to feel confident around new people)

Number 2 used to love matching games when he was in his late 2's and early 3's.  It was a lot more fun shopping for him by the time he turned three.  Ever try to buy something for a 2 year old?  It's so hard.  When you look at the box, anything cute always says, "3 and up."

This sort of annoys me.  I have a feeling that this often has to do with choking.  If you gather all the toys for kids at age 2 versus the toys for kids at age 3, I bet you will see a huge imbalance.  It's as if 2 year olds didn't play.  Why?  It's the Terrible Twos on top of it.  I say give those kids more toys not less! And find something more fun than pounding pegs! Please!  There is a reason why we review toys for ages 3 to 12 and not 2 to 12.

Anyway.... I must remember to go back to talking about memory!  I am hopeless, aren't I?

When I purchased eeBoo's I Never Forget a Face Memory Matching Game, I fell in love.  I wasn't born in the U.S. and so games that feature faces of kids of different nationalities automatically move up on my list of favorites.  Talking about heritage, culture, and what it means to be Asian American is something that I have been teaching my kids for a while now.

What I like about this game is that we are really matching only faces and not objects (although the kids do wear accessories and different types of clothing).  Actually, now that I'm thinking about it, I am not sure how many face matching games there are out there.  It's not something you frequently find.  There aren't any words on the cards but on the back of the box, each child's face is listed with an independent country except for Hawaii (the 50th state of the U.S.) and Puerto Rico (an unincorporated territory of the U.S.).

As the children get older there is much to talk about with these cute faces but what I found most interesting is how we started to help ourselves memorize the faces by naming each face by its place of origin.  It was really hard to just remember them just by their facial features alone. Me, a person of East Asian descent, would always get confused between Mexico and Vietnam and Mongolia.  I know there are some similarities but still...  this game is not that easy.

Another great thing about it is that there are lots of cards (24 pairs) and so you can literally just take out ten pairs and start playing with a little one and increase the number of pairs as they get older.  I know it says ages 5 and up but let a mom cheat a little, ok?  Parents also need variety when they play with their kids. We get bored too!

And besides, have you ever picked up an eeBoo product?  I only have two but they are of great quality.  These cards look like they are made of very thick compressed paper.  Only the a dog with sharp teeth and a lot of spit can destroy them.  I can't even bend them with my hands and I love banging them against the table when I make a match.  I am competitive and I like to psych out my 4 year old who beats me sometimes.  ( I better stop giving him an extra turn.  He is so cunning! Listen to him in this video!)

When it comes to memory skills, we need to be able to generalize across different games and different scenarios.  Maybe we are good at memorizing numbers and so then we need to flex those muscles at memorizing something else like words or faces.  I think it is very hard to do that but I want to try.

However, this goes back to the original question:  How often and how much do we have to do these memory games to make our working memories stronger?

Since Dr. Chacko, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Queens College and the expert consulted for this series on working memory (Part 1, and Part 2) had already established for us that the science has just not reached this point, he leaves us with only our common sense and an affirmation that memory can be improved.  Believe it or not, this answer is really refreshing because in truth, isn't every parent a scientist working in their "laboratories" every single day?   We started when they were infants as we tried to figure out what the heck would make them sleep longer.  Milk before sleep? Noise machine? Co-sleeping? Ferber?  You know what I mean.  Parents try everything if they think it might work.

So here are some of points that I've gathered after listening to Dr. Chacko.  I think we can take these ideas into consideration when attempting to create our own memory workout routine for our kids:

1- Think frequency as in the more the better -  "It's just like anything else that you do, the more you read, the better reader you are, the more you do math, the better at math you are," said Dr. Chacko.   Hmmm.... if I were to start a new exercise regimen, I would do it at least four times a week.  Maybe that is what I should do with memory games.  But gosh, that is a lot of game playing!

2- Working memory can be exercised throughout the day. Dr. Chacko suggested that there are various ways of working on working memory that don't necessarily rely in using a formal game.  For example, having kids put together pairs of socks - that's working memory.  It can even include setting the dinner table according to some defined rules or organizing books according to a system set up by you.  In our house, it is quite a chore to give them chores but here is an added incentive.

3- Be Objective.  Basically, being a master at a memory game is just that, being a master at a game.  Dr. Chacko advised that if you are serious about obtaining a better memory via games, you need to see if your workout regimen is making at impact somewhere else such as school.  Maybe we can just ask the teacher once in a while how he is doing on multi-step directions or just take a look to see if his reading scores have improved since you began your intervention.

It's so strange to even think this way, isn't it?  All this time, I've been purchasing memory games because I thought it was "good for them" but now I am really wondering just how much I can accomplish if I challenge myself to "administer" these exercises whether it is through activities throughout the day or through a few good memory games.   It sounds like it is a lot of work and I am not telling anyone here to do it.  I'm not even doing it myself (yet) but it is something definitely worth contemplating.

 All I can say is that if you really want to do it, then I think you should have a plan with a beginning and an end and with markers at both points to know how far you've come.  More importantly, I feel it's important to be kind and encouraging to yourself and your child.  There are trainers in gyms who might push their adult clients really hard to do those extra sit-ups but children are different.  We can't be that way with them and I say this mostly to remind myself because I have a habit of challenging Number 1 a lot.

As I struggled to understand all that he told me, I sighed and said something about how folks at least would be having fun as a family.  And then Dr. Chacko gave some last bits of advice and I was swiftly humbled.  He said that the key predictors of success were in three critical domains: academic performance, peer relationships, and family relationships.  "So kids who have good family and peer relationships and can get by academically tend to do better than kids who don't. And this is regardless of ADHD or working memory," he said.   Wow! And that is the final bit of good news for a person who likes multi-tasking.  I can never do just one thing.  Call me robotic but I literally would feel like I can check off a "play with the kids for 20-30 minutes a day" box.  Thus this unintended side effect of forging stronger and happier relationships through the playing of fun memory games is an added incentive to just dive right in.  Now, that's a side-effect worth risking!

May all the games we open this season come with very well-edited video instructions, bring about only laughter and lots of it, include more people than less, and have been on a giant sale so that parents do not cry when the credit card bill comes to their mailbox.

Happy Holidays Everyone.

Next post will come shortly after Christmas.

Click Here: Brain Sharpening Series Part 1
Click Here: Brain Sharpening Series Part 2

Disclosure statement: Toys are Tools has not been compensated in any fashion by the manufacturer or retailer of any of the mentioned products for the publication of this post.  


  1. We experienced an potentially embarrassing side-effect of this game.

    Our 3 year old was addicted to it for a while. She could look at any card and instantly tell you the supposed nationality.

    One day, we're sitting around the house (not playing the game at all) and she says "Daddy, I don't like Israel." I tried not to over-react to this, and just asked her what she thought was wrong with Israel. "I just don't like the face." It took me another 20 seconds before it clicked and I tentatively asked, "Are you talking about the Face Memory game?"

    "Of course, Daddy."

    How do you explain to a 3 year old that saying you don't like a country may be offensive. Especially when she's not talking about a country, just a face on a card. I did mention that deciding you don't like someone based purely on their face generally isn't a good idea though.

    Anyway, just read your post via the ThinkFun website, so I had to share the story.

  2. Everything being "3 and up" is for the lawyers. Under 3 there is more chance of kids eating things or otherwise harming themselves. Or so the lawyers think. So they try to CYA by adding that to everything. It's not how most grew up. But we have padded our world to an extreme. (Visit to learn more.

  3. These look so fun - I like the details the kids would need to pay attention to